How to Check If an Engine Is Overheating


One issue that can serious affect a car's performance is overheating. This happens when the engine isn't being cooled properly. It's fairly simple to tell that a car's engine may be overheating, as the car usually gives you plenty of warning, both through gauges and behavior. If your car overheats, you should minimize driving and get to a mechanic as soon as you can.

  • Check the dashboard to determine if the engine is overheating. With most temperature gauges, as the engine heats up, the needle moves towards the "H" (hot). If the needle or indicator is on the "H", the engine is overheating.

  • Look at the hood of the car while driving. If the engine is too hot, it eventually starts to smoke or steam. The smoking gets gradually worse the harder the engine has to work. For instance, if you're climbing a steep hill, the engine has to work harder in order to pull the car up.

  • Listen for unusual sounds under the hood when driving. When a car engine starts to overheat, it may make a rumbling or banging sound.

  • Hold your car's wheel tightly when driving to determine if the car is noticeably shaking when you press the gas. When an engine overheats it sometimes causes the entire car to vibrate more than usual.

  • Check under the hood of the car if you're concerned about overheating. If your anti-freeze container is empty or the level is low, this can lead to overheating. Check the radiator hose (usually located at the front of the car under the hood) to see if you have leakage as well. You should also check under the car to see if anti-freeze is leaking from beneath the vehicle.

  • Check to see if your check-engine light is illuminated. If so, this could be an indication of overheating. Allow a mechanic (or in some cases, an auto parts store representative) to run a diagnostic check on the car to confirm the cause of the check-engine light issue.

Tips & Warnings

  • Be careful when checking under the hood of your car for an overheating issue. The radiator cap, hose and even the hood itself may be hot to the touch. Wear gloves if possible or wait until the car cools down completely before investigating the issue.

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